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Darren Rahn Interview
"It is great to look to the guys who are most successful in the business, and ask what they have done, but I would say without exception that the greatest (artists) are the ones that when they play one or two notes, you automatically know who they are," saidys Denver Colorado native Darren Rahn, and he ought to know. The transplanted Canadian has established himself as one of the premier smooth jazz saxophonists, while building a dual career as a highly respected producer, who among other accomplishments, helped send Wayman Tisdale's CD Way Up all the way to the # 1 spot on the Billboard music charts. 
The cool groove sax man is one of the most likeable guys in the music industry, and the preceding comment was his response to my question concerning what advice he would offer to a young artist at the beginning of their career. "Rather than encouraging an artist to move to New York City or LA (as the most important priority), you really have to find out who you are as a musician, and who you want to be. It is then your responsibility to go get it. That can be done nowadays, from almost anywhere," Rahm said. 
Once In a Lifetime, Rahn's current CD, which features guest artists Wayman Tisdale, Dave Koz and Jeff Lorber, is one of the best smooth jazz albums released in 2007. It has been recognized north of the American border, with two nominations for the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards, most notably in the Album of the Year category. 
"I have worked very hard as a saxophonist to have my own voice, and perhaps that caught their attention. There really is so much talent in that category, that it is an honor to be included (with that group of musicians). I do know that a lot of people are also familiar with the work that I have done as a producer, with artists such as Wayman Tisdale, Dave Koz and Jeff Lorber. Those collaborations are really great. Maybe people are starting to recognize those collaborations. I don't know if there is something that you can really pinpoint, that makes people say, 'Hey, let's nominate this CD for Album of the Year.' I am certainly thankful that they see it that way," said Rahn. 
Straight ahead and bop jazz artists are usually associated with New York City and the eastern seaboard, while California tends to be a hotbed for smooth jazz musicians, so it probably took a little longer for Rahn's talent to be recognized since he lives in Denver. He has, however, adopted the glass half-full attitude, and sees it as far more likely that people will remember him as the saxophonist from Denver, than they would if he lived in a more intense musical environment such as Los Angeles or New York City. In those centers, he might become lost among the sea of musicians. It is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine that anyone will soon forget who Darren Rahn is, especially when you listen to songs such as "Side Steppin'," and "Uptown," from his current CD. 
"The record (Once In A Lifetime) was developed around a bunch of unique experiences in my life. My wife Heather and I had decided to start a family, so during the course of that record she was pregnant with our first child. Also, I had enjoyed some success as the producer for Wayman Tisdale's # 1 hit, "Ain't No Stopping Us Now." They (the songs on Once In a Lifetime), are about real life experiences which have meaning and feelings attached to them, and I tried my best to translate that into music. It is very important for me to convey (those feelings) to the listener. The most important thing is for me to share music with other people. When I see a smile on someone's face, or someone says that your music has affected me in a positive way that is my greatest reward in doing music. 
"There were just so many circumstances around that first record that were really once in a lifetime experiences. I tried my best to translate that into music. They are songs that are real life experiences with meaning and feelings attached to them. On the album I tried very hard to express myself but within a context that I felt would uplift people, and draw the listener in," said Rahn.  "I am very people oriented and I want the music to have a universal appeal.  That is always a big focus for me. Everyone that I have worked with has shared that same thing. As an artist, I want to do my own thing, but I want to ensure that the music is going to reach people and that people want to listen to it. (As a producer) I want to ensure that the musicians' instruments are heard with (the artists') personalities. If it is too contrived, I don't think that it will do as well." 
Someone eavesdropping upon our conversation might think Rahn has a split personality, if they had not caught my question as to how Rahn separates the artist from the producer on studio projects such as Once In A Lifetime , where he wore both hats. "They are two very separate things, and I keep them very separate. As an artist, I try to treat myself as though I was a different producer. When I am working on records, the producer has the final word. Many times I will be in a recording booth recording with my saxophone and the artist side of me will say that is really cool, or that is a really great lick, but if it is not right for the song the producer self will tell the artist self, 'Sorry I can't do that.' When I am working on records, I always defer to that producer self. As musicians, we like to play and sometimes we get carried away. I have to let the producer set the ground rules, and I have to make myself redo things. It is no different than when I work with other artists. As an artist, I may want one thing, but the producer makes the final decision," said Rahn the producer, or was that Rahn the artist.  
Having a dual career has enhanced Rahn's skills as both a producer and an artist. He explained, "Being an artist makes me a better producer, and being a producer makes me a better artist, as long as I keep those two things delineated and understand the role of each. I will even broaden that to say that with music in general, the more that you can learn, the more that you can do, and the more diverse that you can be, it affects every other aspect of your musicianship. For people who play multiple instruments, even if they are not great on some of those instruments it expands their knowledge of them. If you know how to play a little bit of guitar, when you are out touring it is easier to understand what may be going on in the guitar player's head. You can therefore lead or direct in a way that you might not otherwise be able to do. I think that the more diverse that you can be, helps sharpens you in other areas."  
Throughout our time together, however, Darren Rahn's conversation always drifts back to how his music affects people. He related to me an experience he had following his performance at the Catalina Jazz Festival in October of 2006, "We were signing CDs backstage when a woman walked up to me, who had one month earlier been diagnosed with cancer. It had been the darkest time of her life. She said that while we were performing she just felt like something had changed inside of her. She said that it was the first time since she had been diagnosed with cancer that she had experienced joy. I was so humbled by that, and it made me realize that no matter what I am feeling on stage, there are people in the audience who may be there for a reason that I can't even fathom. To see someone who was touched in that way was the most incredible experience that I have had. The performance felt good, but I will not say that it was the most amazing performance that I have done, however the experience afterwards is the tangible proof that someone was positively affected by the music. That is the moment that stands out most in my mind. When I think about what is important to me as a performer that is the most tremendous experience that I have ever had."   That is probably the most important thing that you need to know about Darren Rahn, because it tells you that his music flows from his heart.

By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer and the publisher of Riveting Riffs, . His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague. 


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